Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

By Melissa J. Homestead; Guy J. Reynolds | Go to book overview

13 “Before Its Romanzas
Have Become Street Music”
Cather and Verdi’s Falstaff, Chicago, 1895

JOHN H. FLANNIGAN

In March 1895, as Willa Cather was about to graduate from the University of Nebraska, she traveled with a university librarian friend, Mary Jones, to Chicago to hear five opera performances featuring Metropolitan Opera stars making their annual visit to the Auditorium Theatre.1 The trip was a momentous one for Cather. She had not been outside of Nebraska since arriving there at the age of nine, and she would hear some of the finest singers then active in Europe and the United States in roles that made them famous.2 The Metropolitan’s offerings were a veritable feast for music lovers, yet Cather, who for some time had been actively writing music and theater criticism for the Nebraska State Journal, published a single column for the Journal mentioning only two events from that memorable week. Cather devoted a brief paragraph to the American soprano Emma Eames, who sang the role of Desdemona in the Saturday, 16 March, performance of Verdi’s Otello; the rest of her review is given over to the Thursday, 14 March, performance of Verdi’s final opera, Falstaff.3 Her column, an extraordinarily perceptive piece of work for a twenty-one-year-old college student, represented Cather’s debut as a critic of musical events beyond Lincoln, Nebraska, and makes interesting reading today now that

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